mars attacks in the '60s and '90s

Tim Burton made two good movies, Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Ed Wood, before becoming a Hollywood hack and MOMA-celebrated artiste.
(The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow also makes its way into the Burton canon, despite being one of Henry Selick's best films.)
A web magazine, Collider, argues that Burton's 1996 film Mars Attacks "deserves more respect," since it's a "gleefully chaotic masterpiece." It's certainly chaotic.
"Mars Attacks," the 1960s trading cards, were mean-spirited and one could almost call them subversive, for the year they came out (1962). Burton's movie captured the bad vibes, but the humor in Mars Attacks, the movie, is self-consciously "hilarious" and "over the top" (and therefore not that funny).
In the trading cards the Martians weren't "just a bunch of dickheads," as Collider describes them in Burton's movie.
They were the conventional H.G. Wells baddies, cruel and callous in their treatment of humans. Eventually mankind (or at least the US Air Force) bands together and gives them some payback by blowing up Mars.


In Burton's film the usual small group of disadvantaged outsiders wins the day -- nothing subversive about that, it's the plot of every other Hollywood film. Subversive would be a group of US oligarchs in league with the Martians to provide a casus belli for "lockdowns" and other authoritarian interventions.
Even in 1962 the trading cards didn't lack precedent. Such shocking scenes of violence and mayhem abounded in the EC Comics of the 1950s, before the Comics Code clamped down.





There is actual pathos in these scenes, as well as dark humor, unlike Mars Attacks, the movie, where gruesome deaths play purely for yucks. As Collider says, "Burton’s movie feels like it was thrown together by cynical maniacs," and that wasn't intended as a criticism.

images from "the internet"

Slow Bob and Monkeybone

In 1991, stop-motion animation whiz Henry Selick (Coraline, Nightmare Before Christmas) made a pilot TV short called "Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions," combining animation and live action. It has now turned up on YouTube (for the moment).

Conjoined twin sisters wake up in the dead of night and tiptoe upstairs to observe a man who lives in their attic in a strange state of time suspension named Bob. He clings to the upper corner of a wall like a spider, sleeping, and then a lizard feeds him wake-up juice from a soft drink can. He jumps down from the wall and sees an actual spider webspinning the word "EMERGENCY!" He coils into the fetal position and lizards surround him in a magic circle and begin spraying him with electricity. He teleports to the lower (2D?) dimensions where people who live in hovering black and white photographs are being chased and sliced apart by flying pairs of scissors. Bob, who is now a flat, Terry Gilliam-like puppet, hatches a scheme to destroy the scissors. A regal photo-woman gives him the gift of a watch, in gratitude, and Bob returns to his attic in a cloud of electricity. Just then, the conjoined twin girls burst into the attic and begin painting Bob with yellow paint and laughing demonically. In his slowed-down state he suffers their humiliation; we don't know why they are hostile to him. In the final shot, he wipes yellow paint off his watch face and and sees the photo-queen giving him words of advice and counsel. End. Music by The Residents.

Selick's 2001 film Monkeybone, with a script by Sam Hamm, is similarly bizarre--and I would say brilliant--but widely considered a flop (20% on the tomato-meter and all that). It was based on a graphic novel Dark Town, which sounds intriguing from the Wikipedia description:

A man, Jacques De Bergerac, is in a coma after being in a car accident. He finds himself in Dark Town, where the land is dominated by strange living, breathing puppets and marionettes with button eyes.

The Lords of Dark Town are trying to kill Jacques, and use his body in the real world as a vessel for an agent of Dark Town. There's only one problem, Jacques' imagination. He carries it with him always, in a red suitcase. It protects him from the horrors of Dark Town.

Meanwhile, In the real world, Jacques' wife decides to take him off life support. Jacques now only has 12 hours to live. Back in dark town, Jacques encounters Death, Who informs him of his time limit, and tells him how to escape Dark Town. The book ends on a cliff-hanger, as Jacques is captured by a knight after wandering onto a chessboard.


Dark Town was originally intended to be a miniseries. However, only the first part of the story was ever published.

In the film version the suitcase is replaced by an oversexed cartoon monkey, who conspires against the comatose cartoonist for a shot at inhabiting the mortal body of Brendan Fraser. The role was originally intended for Jim Carrey and Fraser wasn't up to antics at that level; nevertheless he is a more sympathetic actor and his romance with the sublime Bridget Fonda, playing his sleep therapist, makes you really care about whether he escapes Dark Town.


Recommended: Coraline, and in particular Bruno Coulais' soundtrack.
This blog likes pretty much everything director/stop-motion animator Henry Selick has done, from Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions to Nightmare Before Christmas to the unfairly-derided Monkeybone.
It appears digital 3D puppets are how Hollywood plans to keep luring the preteen set to theatres in the current slump, with parents in tow, natch. Previewed several bad-looking ones before the movie started.
Selick's film has some CGI but he is that rare duck who crafts actual physical models, moves, and photographs them, thus mostly avoiding the horrible rubbery Shrek look.
Coraline has gorgeous sets and some spectacular trippy sequences, such as the "blooming of the night garden."
Coulais' sweet, sad music recalls a mix of Carl Orff and the famous Bulgarian Radio Choir recordings, with a slightly Middle Eastern flavor (the composer's mother is Iraqi). Several children's choirs are used on the soundtrack.
Pricy, because you have to shell out extra for 3D glasses to watch it in the theatre, but worth it. The score also merits a download.